Twilight sleep or dammerschlaf started in early 20th century Germany, with Dr Kronig And Dr. Guass. Twilight sleep is unique in that it used a combination of scopolamine and morphine to give women pain relief and also put them into a foggy state resulting in having zero memory of birth. Twilight sleep sparked the first wave of feminism in birth where women changed maternity care in the US
Dammerschlaf: Twilight Sleep is born
In 1906, obstetricians Bernhardt Kronig and Karl Gauss came up with the idea of giving the drugs scopolamine and morphine to help with childbirth. Morphine would provide pain relief, while scopolamine would cause drowsiness, amnesia, and euphoria. The idea was that they would give the patient enough of the two drugs that the pain would be reduced without completely knocking them out, as well as giving them complete amnesia afterward.
The use of scopolamine was gaining acceptance in general surgery, but many obstetric experiments ended badly or in overdose. Reports recorded the desirable sedated state but also the problems and side effects: slowed pulse, decreased respiration, delirium.
Most doctors were not supporters of twilight sleep noting that it had many risks. However, many women loved it. All they heard was you wake up with your baby- no pain! The problem was that twilight birth was not painless, they just couldn’t remember the pain and trauma their body went through.
Twilight sleep comes to America
In 1912, the first American woman to have her baby via twilight birth, Mrs Stewrt describes it as ‘a fairy tale birth, very luxurious.’
Then in 1913, two female reporters from McClure Magazine in NY travel to germany to witness twilight sleep and write about it. They are actually turned away but they return with an undercover expecting mom, Mary Sumner Boyd, and get their story.
The article paints twilight birth as a miracle painless birth process and doesn’t include any of the controversy or side effects or that many doctors refuse to practice this way because of how unsafe it was to mom and baby.
This article fueled the first feminist movement in birth the United States.
A lesson in advocacy
Wealthy women begin traveling to Germany to have their babies and the media is demanding American OBs provide twilight sleep. The battle for twilight sleep was a battle for women’s rights. It was the way for women to take control of their childbirth.
And even though American doctors were not supportive of this method of childbirth, they were losing clients and so they scrambled to meet the demand.
Francis Carmody was the first American woman after the McClure’s article to give birth in Germany, taking her OB with her. Her first birth experience and lengthy recovery had been traumatic. The delivery in Freiburg of her second child in July 1914 was flawless. Carmody became a fierce advocate of twilight sleep, staging huge rallies in stores, squares, churches. She is quoted as saying “If you women want twilight sleep you will have to fight for it, for the mass of doctors are opposed to it.”
In 1915 the traditional twilight sleep begins to decline after the death of Carmody, who died birthing her 3rd child via twilight sleep.Of course, since she was the founder of the Twilight Sleep Association, her attorney husband and doctor claimed it was unrelated to twilight birth.
While twilight sleep did lose popularity after a very short moment in the spotlight, there remained a different version of a similar birthing process where women were still put to sleep to birth their babies. `
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